From 17th November, I’ll be releasing a Target-style illustrated novelisation of Dimensions in Time, one chapter a day, exclusive to the Escape to Danger blog. It will lead up to Doctor Who’s anniversary on 23rd November and aims to raise money for BBC Children in Need.
Escape to Danger’s Top Ten Targets
I was recently a guest on the Doctor Who Literature podcast discussing this blog with the host, Jason Miller. In preparing for the interview, I decided to set myself the task of compiling a top ten Target books list (we’re fans – we love lists!), but with the added challenge of only allowing one book per author. It’s not easy as I already had a few tomes that I’d revisited over the years and now I’ve discovered some real gems among the ones I’d not read before.
I’m not listing these in any particular order, this is just how the titles came to mind and shuffled themselves into position. Oh – with one exception – I knew Terrence Dicks had to be in the mix, so I deliberately chose his one last. Also, these aren’t even necessarily the best of an author’s work, they’re just the ones I like the most. Feel free to share your own in the comments below.
The Dinosaur Invasion
I’ve said this elsewhere but the thing that struck me in this was that Hulke takes time to describe a character’s ‘badly bitten fingernails’. That level of insight blew my mind when I first read this, realising that other people might notice I was a nail biter (I still am – terrible habit, but so moreish!). I hadn’t seen the TV version by this point so the opening scenes with Shughie didn’t strike me as anything special, apart from being really thrilling. The first edition of this also has the best cover art ever.
The Ark in Space
Ian Marter’s first novel and it’s a sidestep into horror that doesn’t make consessions for children. A lot of Marter’s tropes are present here, specifically the gloopiness of the Wirrrn grub and the general wetness of Noah’s transformation. If I’m being honest, Harry Sullivan’s War is my absolute favourite of Marter’s, but Ark in Soace comes out on top out of his ‘proper’ Who books.
Remembrance of the Daleks
The book where everything changes as Ben Aaronovich invents the New Adventures, with the guidance of editor Peter Darvill Evans. The characters are fleshed out with back-stories, we see events from the perspective of the Daleks and Ben’s skill at world-building creates brand new elements that somehow feel as if they’ve always been part of Who lore. Another first-time novelist here and it’s an absoluite game-changer.
City of Death
James Goss sticks much closer to the televised script than in his expanded first adaptation, but there’s still so much more to this than just transposing the script to the page. Goss captures the breathless giddyness of Douglas Adams’s writing without slavishly copying it and even before the first proper page, there’s one of the best jokes in the entire series as The Changing Face of Doctor Who makes a welcome return.
I still don’t know for sure if I ever read this as a child – a pure history adventure didn’t match my understanding of what Doctor Who was. But I must have read some of it at least, if only to come to that opinion in the first place. Whatever, it’s a cracking adventure with a cinematic scale. Reading this back in July 2020, I was aware that I was excited to discover something so thrillingly new in one of the oldest books in the range. It made me wish Whitaker had written more.
The Myth Makers
Another historical and another adventure I read for the first time as part of this project. Donald Cotton is ridiculous – and I mean that as a huge compliment. He gives us a narrator who isn’t even in the TV version (or at least, is very clearly not present in most scenes) and comes up with the most hilariously tenuous explanations for how he might have witnessed events (such as hiding behind a bush just out of range for the cameras to have picked up up on telly). All three of Cotton’s Who books are marvellous, but this just wins its place for me through sheer audacity.
Some of the authors struggled to stretch 45 minutes of screentime into a novel, but that’s not a problem for Russell T Davies. It’s told from Rose’s point of view, as on TV, but with the benefit of knowing who she becomes, it’s not afraid to show her negative points too. We discover that Mickey has a whole peer group who just didn’t make it onto our screens in 2005 and the climactic ‘Battle of London’ gives us all the violence of the rampaging Autons that couldn’t be shown at tea-time. Instantly went into my top ten, long before I knew I was compiling one.
Marc Platt’s adaptation of Battlefield managed to make me love an Arthurian story in a way I’ve never managed before, but that was an adaptation of someone else’s work. Ghost Light is pure Marc Platt, as deep and cerebral as its TV original, but with the added bonus of Marc Platt’s exquisite writing style. It also gets bonus points for Alister Pearson’s best cover art.
The Mutation of Time
… or “Doctor Who – The Daleks’ Master Plan Part II: The Mutation of Time”. It might well have been that I took against John Peel because I disliked his New and Missing Adventures, but after rereading his Dalek books I might need to give those Virgin books another go. It’s a bit of a cheat picking this particular volume, part two of the epic adventure, but it really shows off Peel’s skills at staying true to Terry Nation’s vision without feeling shackled to it. All of his Dalek books are marvellous though.
Day of the Daleks
One of my most reread Who books (my copy is battered), and another one where I was too young to have seen it on first broadcast, so I wasn’t so thrown by the new scenes in the prologue as much as I was when I saw the story on VHS and they were missing. Again, there might be better Terrance Dicks books – his later Third Doctor ones are particularly strong – but this is my most cherished.
Chapter 150. Doctor Who – Survival (1990)
Synopsis: The Doctor brings Ace home to her own time and place. But the time is Sunday and the place is Perivale, the most boring place ever. Most of Ace’s friends have disappeared and the youth club has been taken over by a fanatical army type with a sadistic streak. On a distant planet, the Master waits for the Doctor’s arrival – only with the help of his oldest enemy can he hope to escape a world that is slowly turning him into a ferocious animal…
Numbered One to Eight, with a postscript.
Background: Rona Munro adapts her own scripts from the 1989 serial.
Notes: The man who’s abducted while washing his car is called Dave Aitken. His elderly neighbour who shoos away the cats is Mrs Bates. Ace and her gang used to listen to the music of ‘Guns and Roses’ [sic] and ‘Spondy Gee’. There’s a crack on the youth club door that was the result of a fight between Ace and Midge. They all used to hang around outside the local pub hoping they could persuade older kids to buy ‘cans’ for them. The Doctor puts a gold star-shaped coin from Psion B into Ange’s collection tin. Paterson is a police officer, not a sergeant in the territorial army as on TV (hence why he knows Ace was let off with a ‘warning’). After the sergeant criticises her for never phoning home, Ace recalls the events in 1945 that led to her meeting her mother as a baby. Still confused by the conflicting emotions the relationship with he rparents provokes, she feels distressed that the Doctor appears to be ignoring her in favour of his tins of cat food. This prompts her to walk off alone to gather her thoughts – watched by a kitling.
The kitlings (‘feline vultures’) can teleport from planet to planet in search of carrion and have been to Earth many times. They can ‘smell blood even across the vacuum of space’ – and the Cheetah People follow them in search of sport. Midge has posters for heavy metal bands in his room (on TV, he has a U2 album).
Returning home in the early hours of Monday morning, Midge goes to the shop run by Len and Harvey and demands money. The Master releases a kitling in the shop, which transports the shopkeepers away. Midge kills both Paterson and Derek. After Karra is killed, Ace sees Shreela and tells her she won’t be staying in Perivale. Shreela helps her obtain some petrol and Ace lights a pyre for Karra and Midge, before walking off arm in arm with the Doctor (who does not deliver the speech we heard on TV).
Cover: One of the most inventive covers ever, Alister Pearson paints a vista of the Cheetah people’s planet with portraits of a concerned Doctor, a possessed Ace and the Master’s black cat minion. The canvas has been slashed with four claw marks. An early pencil draft of this design also showed the Master’s face emerging from the cat’s torso, but this was dropped for the final painting.
Final Analysis: Another cracking novel, it’s largely what we saw on TV but with added violence and a generally more adult tone; as with Ghost Light, it’s beautifully written and visceral. The scene with Ange raising money for hunt saboteurs is enhanced by a shop window containing a dummy wearing a fur coat:
The Doctor pressed closer to the glass. Yellow fur, spotted fur, hung limp and soft on the dummy like the dead thing it was. There was no hint of the long muscles that had animated it, the bone, sinew, heart and lungs of the animal that had worn it as its own skin as it streaked across the dusty yellow savannah, the fastest creature on earth. There was only the barest reminder of the coat’s original owner, the animal that now reminded the Doctor so forcibly of the connection he had been looking for.
With just a couple of novels remaining, the Seventh Doctor era is shaping up to be the most consistent of the Target collection. At the back of this book, in a postscript, range editor Peter Darvill-Evans marked the fact that it appeared unlikely that Doctor Who was returning to our screens any time soon. He also revealed that as well as some remaining novelisations, plans were already underway to start publishing original novels – the continuing adventures of the Doctor and Ace.
Chris Achilleos (1947-2021)
The artist Chris Achilleos has died, aged 74. The early Target Doctor Who books were graced by his impactful style, combining monchrome pointillist portraits against lurid nebulous galaxies.
Prologue – The Journey Begins
As a child, I was a frequent visitor to my local library. It was the boundary for the furthest point I was allowed to walk unaccompanied, it was a meeting place for friends – and it was the cause of more than one row with my best friend, who had a habit of snatching books out of my hand and rushing to sign them out before I could protest. They were hardback books with white spines that displayed the title and author in thick, black letters. The covers were laminated with plastic sheeting that was often tatty or torn and they had the same four words at the start of each title: ‘Doctor Who and the…’. Terrance Dicks wrote many of them, but there were others by such authors as Malcolm Hulke, David Whitaker and Gerry Davis. Some of them had illustrations inside of people looking shocked in a variety of scientific bases and weird alien landscapes. I had a real fascination for the covers, which were often montages of black-and-white portraits against brightly coloured galaxies made of bubbles.
Many Doctor Who fans who grew up in the 70s and 80s will recognise the descriptions here. Although the hardbacks were published by WH Allen, the paperback editions were released by their sub-brand Target. By the time I was nine years old, and recognising that an eagerness for reading should be encouraged, my parents bought me my first Target books of my own: Doctor Who and the Keys of Marinus, Doctor Who and the Carnival of Monsters, Doctor Who and the Ark in Space, and Doctor Who and the Loch Ness Monster. Throughout the 1980s, I added to my collection at Christmas and birthdays, or if I’d saved up enough pocketmoney, and many of my own editions were bought from a two-storey bookshop on Renshaw Street, Liverpool (sadly no longer there). That’s where I bought Doctor Who and the Zarbi, Doctor Who and the Terror of the Autons and many, many more…
Despite an enthusiasm for the stories and easy access to other bookshops, I never quite managed to collect the set. Doctor Who had been huge in 1984, but just a year later, it was put on hold for 18 months and even though it limped on for four more years, it wasn’t the communal interest it had once been. By the early 90s, Doctor Who was over and my friends were discussing Star Trek: The Next Generation or looking back to other shows such as Blake’s 7, The Avengers or Gerry Anderson’s puppet series.
In this digital age, where space is limited and bookshelves store DVDs instead, it’s been a real blessing to stumble across someone who has scanned every one of the Doctor Who books, including the covers and illustrations, and made them available in an eBook-friendly format. There are also audiobooks of many of the books, read by the actors who starred in the TV originals. So now, equipped with a complete set of Target books for the first time, I’m ready to start a pilgrimage through time and space.
Just a quick note, though. As of 2021, although there are a select few modern stories adapted (ie, stories transmitted after 2005), there’s no stated intention to novelise every single one. On the upside, the addition of four new novels means there’s now a complete run of books spanning 1963-96. Just to give it a proper end-point therefore, the focus of this project will be the ‘classic’ era only.
Care to join me on this quest? This amazing wiki guide lists all the books in order of publication with loads of extra information. https://tardis.fandom.com/wiki/Target_Books